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The 3 Worst Gas Credit Cards for Fighting High Gas Prices

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As gas prices climb higher and higher, hitting and passing the $4 in some places, people turn to gas credit cards to help defray the costs. Helped along in no small part by marketing blitzes and experts extolling branded credit cards, many choose to get station-specific cards, to their detriment. But these three station-branded cards don’t deserve their popularity, and don’t have any place helping you save money at the pump.

BP Credit Card: Because what they really needed was bad PR

The BP credit card used to be the best in the business: 5% back on BP gas, 2% on travel and dining and 1% elsewhere, with double rewards in the first 60 days. But as of March 1st, the BP credit card’s rewards program royally sucks, despite the accolades it’s received. Using confusing rebate wizardry, the mavens over at Chase decided on this rewards program:

  • 15 cents off per gallon per $100 spent at BP, up to 20 gallons 
  • 5 cents off per gallon per $100 spent elsewhere, up to 20 gallons 
  • 25 cents off per gallon per $100 spent anywhere in the first 60 days, up to 20 gallons (available only to new cardholders)

Looks great, right? But then the terms and conditions kick in. You can only get those rebates on one fill-up at a time, so if you drive a Prius, your rewards rate is is a lot lower than someone with a giant gas tank. Absolute best case scenario? You get 3% back at BP and 1% elsewhere. But they’ve rigged it so that your rewards rate will probably be a lot lower.

Gulf Credit Card: “Generous” gas rebates?

The Gulf credit card’s website advertises “generous” and “great” gas rebates, but all the superlatives in the world can’t disguise the simple truth: the rewards are mediocre at best. You only get 3% on Gulf gas and 1% elsewhere, with absolutely no signup bonus. A number of credit cards give you 3% on gas pumped anywhere, so you’re not limited to filling up at what may or may not offer the best price. Sure, it isn’t tricksy like the BP card, but generous? I think not.

Shell Drive for Five: Catchy slogan, but little else

Shell’s credit card offers a fairly simple program: buy at least 45 gallons from Shell per month, and they’ll rebate you 5 cents per gallon, up to 100 gallons. Sounds like a pretty good deal, right? A great way to knock off a few cents. But there are two little twists. The first is that 5 cents per gallon really isn’t that great of a rewards rate: with the average gas price of $3.71, that’s less than 1.5% rewards on Shell’s own gas. We consider 3% back to be the bare minimum (see: Gulf card) – 1.5% is far too low. And second, we estimate that the average household buys about 40 gallons of gas a month. So if you’re like the average household, you’d have to spend just a bit more than usual to get the reward – which is exactly what Shell wants you to do.

So what do you do when the high gas prices come calling?

If you really want to ease the pain at the pump, try a card that gives rewards at all gas stations, and gives rewards in other areas as well. These all-purpose rewards cards tend to have fewer silly gimmicks., and they won’t lock you into one station and force you to pay $3.80 at Shell when the Chevron next door costs $3.70. And if you earn rewards on groceries while you’re at it, so much the better. Here are our picks for actually decent gas rewards cards.

American Express Blue Cash Preferred Credit Card
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American Express Blue Cash: With an incredible rate of 6% back on groceries (up to $6k/year), unlimited 3% on gas and department stores and 1% elsewhere, the AmEx Blue Cash is well worth the annual fee of $75. That charge is offset and more by a $100 signup bonus in the first year, and it gives cash back, so none of the BP redemption nonsense. Its no-fee partner, the Blue Cash Everyday, gives 3%, 2% and 1%, respectively, if you’re looking for a no-fee credit card.

Hilton HHonors credit card: If you’re a fan of hotel stays, you can’t go wrong with one of the Hilton credit cards. Both of the Hilton AmExes give 6 points on gas, groceries, drugstores, and some utilities, and 3 points elsewhere. Since we value HHonors points at 0.5 cents each, that’s a rewards rate of 3% and 1.5% in bonus and non-bonus spending, respectively (take that, Gulf). One has no annual fee and comes with Silver elite status, while the other has a $75 annual fee but a larger signup bonus, one year of Gold status, and a handful of other perks.

Chase Freedom Credit Card
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Chase Freedom: If you’re looking for a solid, no-fee, cash back card to give great rewards on gas, and you don’t want to deal with the acceptance issue you sometimes see with AmEx, the Chase Freedom is a great bet. You recveive 5% cash back in rotating bonus categories. This year, the first and third quarter’s privileged categories include gas, so you average out to 3% rewards on gas for the year. Plus, it comes with a $100 signup bonus, and a host of bonus categories that span Amazon.com, groceries and movies.

  • http://twitter.com/sunkcosts slug

    Come on guys. That’s a really nice post until you get down to your card recommendations. Ya’ll know the that PenFed’s Platinum Cash Rewards VISA gives you 5% cashback on gas year round with no limits and super easy rewards redemption. It is by far the best gas card available. It should be listed up there. More details: http://sunkcostsareirrelevant.com/2011/10/the-only-gas-card-you-need/

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      Hey there,
      It is a pretty good card, but you do have to go through the additional step of signing up to be a PenFed member. And from what we’ve seen, the approval rates are really low – you need very very very good credit to qualify. But you’re right, the PenFed card has one of the highest rates out there, especially after BP changed its rewards program.

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  • James

    How do you guys value the AMEX Gold PR’s 2x multiplier on gas?

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      We value AmEx MR rewards as about the same as cash, so you’d actually get the full 2% rate.

      • http://www.facebook.com/karl.l.mitchell Karl Mitchell

        I value Amex MRs at about 2c/pt, due to the ability to redeem as airline miles, and the quite frequent transfer bonuses. For some redemptions (e.g. via BA for internal AA flights) you can do WAY better than that. In addition, the 15,000 points bonus for $30,000 spend on the Amex PRG gives you the equivalent of up to 0.5 c/$ bonus. In short, if you use the card wisely, and are disciplined in how you handle redemptions, you can get a lot of value out of the AMEX PRG.

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  • Ken

    We already have a Chase Freedom card. Is it to our advantage to get a gas card either from Valero or BP?

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      Neither card is particularly good. The BP rewards program is convoluted and mediocre at best (see: http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/2012/bp-credit-card-rewards-bad-asno/). The Valero card with the $10 annual fee gives 1-2 cents off per gallon (which is less than 0.5% rewards), and the no-fee one has no ongoing rewards. Both do give 30c off per gallon for the first 3 months, up to 100 gallons per month. That works out to a maximum savings of $90 – a pretty pathetic signup bonus.

      If you’re looking for ongoing gas rewards beyond the Chase Freedom’s first and third quarter, the American Express Blue Cash Preferred and Everyday are solid choices. See our review of the Blue Cash cards for the full details: http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/2011/amex-unveils-rewards-cards-blue-cash-everyday-preferred/ .

  • Judy

    Help… I have a new job where I spend 50-60$ a week in gas and only get paid twice a month. I was thinking of getting a pre-paid gas card so I will also have the money for gas..since my divorce, my credit is bad and building it up… what I’m missing to build it is not having any type of credit cards but at the same time I don’t want one. so not sure what way to go…any ideals?

  • Martae

    The Chase BP program is by far the worst rewards program I have ever seen! I would take a flat 3% or even 2% at BP stations over this. The article is right. I have averaged less than 2% on this card. It stinks! Call the number on your BP and tell a representative you don’t like it.